Bringing together the best Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.
Unsurprisingly, Indonesia and the spying allegations were a big focus for The Interpreter this week. Here we recap some of our coverage.
Immediately following the revelations on Tuesday, I briefly looked at the possible diplomatic fallout:
This ought to prompt questions about the costs and benefits of intelligence collection. Is the information Australia gathers important enough to risk such diplomatic damage?
Of course, we shouldn't overstate that damage. The fundamentals of the Australia-Indonesia relationship will eventually re-assert themselves. It is simply not in the interests of either country to create a long-term breach.
But having said that, it is easier to weather diplomatic storms like this one if there is 'ballast' in the relationship. Where both sides see an obvious down-side to a prolonged breach, they will act to avoid or minimise it. Yet Australia's two-way trade with Indonesia is currently less than that with New Zealand, and although the political relationship is routinely described by experts as being close, they also point out that people-to-people ties are extremely thin. As for the asylum seeker issue, it seems Australia needs Indonesia more than the other way around.
In fact, given Indonesia's size and sustained economic growth, that might be the motif for the overall relationship in years to come: Australia as the suitor to an ever larger and more influential regional power. That's a world in which the risks of a diplomatic breach fall much more heavily on Canberra than they do on Jakarta.
Arjuna Dibley and Tim Graham surveyed how the Indonesian press assessed the allegations and government responses:
Sovereignty has emerged as a common thread across the coverage of number of media outlets.
Media Indonesia, for instance, ran an editorial on page one of yesterday's paper, emphasising that 'Indonesia is not an inferior nation'. The editorial states that 'As a sovereign country in our own right, we [Indonesia] should not become the plaything of others.' It goes on to say that 'Of course Indonesia must be hard on the “Kangaroo country" which has betrayed our good relations up until now'. The paper again ran a critical front page editorial this morning, calling for a tougher Indonesian government response to the violation of Indonesia's sovereignty, including by suggesting that Indonesia expel the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia.
While Indonesian media coverage of this issue has been negative across the board, the new Abbott government should be particularly concerned by suggestions in editorials and by senior politicians that Australia has breached Indonesian sovereignty.
These type of claims have historically characterised some of the most sensitive and damaging issues in the bilateral relationship, such as the West Papuan refugee crisis in 2006 and Australia's support for East Timorese independence. Its presence in the public discourse should be taken as a clear sign — if one were needed — that public sentiment towards Australia has truly soured.
Regular columnist Stephen Grenville offered some advice for the Abbott Government on repairing relations with Indonesia:
First, we should see this as an opportunity to take a hard look at the cost/benefit balance of intelligence activities. In return for a load of gossip and the rare insight that could have been more easily gained by open diplomatic activity, we have not only offended an important neigbour, but made ourselves look foolish.
What did we hope to learn that couldn't be learned another way? The post-9/11 atmosphere has given the security industry a huge boost and it's time to rein it in, with fewer resources and more common sense. Let's put most of those saved resources into conventional diplomacy. That way you not only hear what people say, but have a dialogue on which proper understanding is based.
Second, let's apologise (always a good move when you are wrong). An apology by itself doesn't mean much. In addition to saying that we now realise that some of what we were doing was an unfriendly and unnecessary act, we should try to define in general terms the new, smaller, perimeter of our efforts. Just where these boundaries are would come out of the first action, above: let's look at the value of what we have been collecting and weigh this against the cost.
Third (probably the hardest part, because it is unfair), someone's head has to roll. When the Department of Immigration was widely (perhaps unfairly) perceived to be incompetent, the head of the department was relieved of his job and shifted elsewhere. He got more blame than he deserved, but had to make the sacrifice (and the downside wasn't too bad: ambassadorship in Jakarta, actually).
ANU's Peter McCawley looked broadly at the tough times ahead for Australia-Indonesia relations:
So where do we go now, given that an awkward row has broken out between Indonesia and Australia? The outlook is not encouraging.
Looking ahead to 2014 and beyond, the chances that the bilateral relationship will become easier any time soon look dim.
For one thing, from the point of view of both Australia and Indonesia's ASEAN partners, SBY and his Vice President Boediono have provided excellent leadership in the region.It is most unfortunate that SBY and Boediono have found themselves in the midst of difficulties with Australia towards the end of their term in office. Both are careful and thoughtful leaders; both give high priority to tackling Indonesia's difficult internal problems; and have worked hard to strengthen regional cooperation across ASEAN. But their term in office ends next year. The outlook becomes much more uncertain beyond next October when there will be a new president in Indonesia.
For another thing, starting in early 2014 Indonesian political life will move into high gear.In the short-term — during most of 2014 — sharp political competition and turbulence seems certain to dominate the political scene in Indonesia.
A first round of noisy nation-wide elections will be held in April for over 20,000 seats in the national, provincial and district legislatures. Immediately after these parliamentary elections, national attention will focus on the first round of the presidential elections to be held in July. If no presidential candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round, then a second round will be held in September.
Even after the new president takes office in October, uncertainty will continue for months. New ministers and new parliamentarians will not settle into their jobs until well into 2015.
For most of this time the overwhelming focus of political life in Indonesia will be on domestic affairs. Leaders and the media will have scant time for anything other than the rapidly-changing political landscape within Indonesia. It is inevitable that most international issues — such as negotiations with Australia over asylum seekers — will rank low on Indonesia's list of priorities for most of 2014.
Greta Nabbs-Keller provided some possible reasons why Indonesia might have reacted so angrily:
From an Indonesian perspective, the Snowden revelations indicate that despite Indonesia's political transformation and the effort SBY has personally invested in rebuilding and reinvigorating relations, Australia is stuck in old paradigms when it comes to its northern neighbour. 'These US & Australian actions have certainly damaged the strategic partnerships with Indonesia, as fellow democracies', tweeted the president.
What the Snowden leaks suggest to Indonesia is that old threat perceptions die hard in the dark recesses of Canberra's intelligence apparatus.
Jakarta Post chief editor and influential foreign policy actor Meidyatama Suryodiningrat highlighted the problem of Australia's outdated constructs in a recent article. Suryodiningrat argued that Australia's intelligence approach to Indonesia was steeped in a Cold War context: 'It all goes to show that while the world has changed, Australia's mind-set has not'.
There is little doubt that the leaks have been deeply damaging to Indonesia-Australia relations, with Indonesian leaders seeing them as evidence that Australian conceptions of their country remain incongruent with Indonesia's contemporary realities as the world's third largest democracy, emerging economic powerhouse and responsible international actor.
And at the end of the week the Lowy Institute's Dave McRae discussed Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's use of Twitter to express his displeasure over the spying allegations:
His fondness for Twitter is clear in the proportion of tweets he authors himself. In the first twenty days of November, @SBYudhoyono issued 140 tweets to its more than 4 million followers, 71 of them personally signed by *SBY*. By comparison, @TonyAbbottMHR sent 14 tweets over the same period, with no indication as to which were personally authored.
The spying row is not the first time Yudhoyono has turned to Twitter in a moment of crisis or controversy. When the Free Papua Movement opened a campaign office in Oxford, Yudhoyono used Twitter in May to warn the UK Government that the office would damage bilateral relations. At the height of discussion of possible military strikes on Syria, Yudhoyono also sent a string of tweets outlining his preference for a peacekeeping force and detailing his advocacy efforts towards other world leaders.
Why has *SBY* taken to Twitter? Beyond his evident personal enjoyment of Twitter, the platform allows him to express his personality in a more genuine and human way. One of the reasons Indonesians cite for the popularity of current presidential frontrunner Joko Widodo is his easy-going man-of-the-people style compared to Yudhoyono's stiff reliance on protocol. Herein lies the real advantage of Twitter for Yudhoyono. For a leader who on more than one occasion has suffered the indignity of audience members falling asleep during his speeches, Twitter has allowed him to overcome his customary formality.
The next time Yudhoyono tweets about a diplomatic row it should come as no surprise. Tony Abbott might even do well to get his own tweets out there first in anticipation. Who knows, he might even gain a rare presidential retweet.
Image by Flickr user AK Rockefeller.